The design phase of an AIM project involves making the technical decisions necessary to satisfy the questions and objectives developed during the initial planning process. Sometimes the discussions around these design requirements even lead to changing some of the decisions made during the planning stage. Remember that adaptive management adapts in response to new understanding.
Step 1: Develop a Monitoring Program and Management Objectives
- At this point of the process we will begin to use the AIM Process Model (Figure 1). The AIM Process Model serves as a general timeline for project planning and design as well as illustrating the iterative processes.
- One of the most important steps in the AIM process model is the identification of management objectives that will be the focus of your monitoring effort. Management objectives should provide the context for why monitoring information is needed and how it will be used. Together, management and monitoring objectives (Step 2b) inform all subsequent decisions, including where and how points are selected and what will be measured and at what frequency.
- To begin this effort, work as an interdisciplinary team to review existing documents which describe the management history, planned management actions, previous data collection efforts, and relevant policy.
- To better understand how to develop management objectives, click here for a step-by-step process in objective development
Step 2: Set the Study Area and Reporting Units; Develop Monitoring Objectives
A project always has a clearly-defined geographic extent determined by the management questions and objectives and available resources. The sample frame is the complete set of locations that
can be randomly selected from for surveying. If the project concerns characterizing the health of lands managed by a field office, chances are that the most appropriate sample frame is the land managed by the field office within their boundary because any location within that would be a valid survey location. If the project concerns a set of watershed, then the sample frame will be restricted to those watersheds because no survey location should be drawn outside the watersheds.
The result of this should be two GIS polygon shapefiles: one for the project area and one for the sample frame along with their descriptions. Click here for a step-by-step walk-through
Step 3: Stratification Strategy
Not all parts of a project area are considered equal, necessarily. In some cases it may be advisable to stratify the landscape—breaking it into chunks, strata, that share certain characteristics—so that survey efforts can be distributed better. As an example, a small portion of the project area may represent a highly vulnerable type of ecosystem. The odds are that establishing random survey locations across the whole project are will fail to place any points at all in an ecosystem that makes up a fraction of the landscape, so allocating a certain number of random points to be selected in that stratum allows a statistically-sound strategy to still represent the small inclusion without sacrificing randomness.
If strata are used, the result should be a table listing and describing the strata and a GIS polygon shapefile of their extents.
Step 4: Level of Intensification
In an ideal world, we would have perfect knowledge of ever cubic centimeter of the management area. However, projects have real-world constraints like growth seasons, funding, and personnel. This requires a careful balance in terms of how intensely to sample—how many plots to survey—so that an area can be characterized with enough confidence to be useful while also not running over budget or past schedule. There are some rules of thumb to consider when deciding how many plots is enough for the proposed goals.
The result here should be the expected number of plots necessary to meet the management needs, broken down into the number per stratum if stratification is a part of the project design.
Next step: Collecting Data and Quality Assurance